New York Jets: Rebuild Reality Check

Dan Essien with a comprehensive review of the New York Jets “rebuild” and how it compares to other teams in similar situations league wide in recent years…

The New York Jets had a very hopeful offseason preceding the 2018 regular season. GM Mike Maccagnan was seemingly able to fix the Jets’ long suffered lack of a franchise quarterback when he secured Sam Darnold. Everything was gravy just a few months ago. However, we’ve reached that inevitable point in the season where Jets fans are struggling to balance long term patience with where the on the field product currently is. Here’s the thing: It should be better. However, that statement might not be for the reason you think.

The Jets may have solved their quarterback problem with great finesse in the offseason. However, the Jets still show signs of a roster that isn’t ready to compete. Jets GM, Mike Maccagnan has been on the job since 2015 and has had plenty of time to build a competitive roster before drafting Darnold in 2018. The results, however, have left something to be desired. For all the wheeling and dealing Maccagnan has made, there’s been a lack of substance in the main objective he was brought in for: building through the draft.

Before I get into this, I’ll say this: an important point is that the 2018 draft seems like an improvement on past years. The question is “why?” Some have rumored that it’s Brian Heimerdinger’s influence. But, really, whether its him or a scout in North Dakota that spoke up during a meeting; if there is a voice of competence in that building, they need to make sure that voice is augmented. But for me, the existence of that new voice doesn’t excuse the following issues that have led the Jets to this point.

Scattering Needs

Before Maccagnan arrived in 2015, the Jets had a good amount of positions that needed to be upgraded. They needed a quarterback, a go to wide receiver, a tight end, an entire secondary, and an edge rusher. Of course, as we always talk about on this site, not every position is created equal. The Jets were lacking at most “premium” positions. How do the Jets stand now, in their second rebuild under Maccagnan? They need nearly an entire offensive line, a running back, they still need an edge rusher, and there’s a good chance they’ll need a wide receiver after this season. You expect a roster reset to start a rebuild, but Maccagnan hasn’t been consistently hitting on draft picks to offset the losses. As a result, it mostly feels like the needs have just been scattered or rearranged.

You could argue the only sure-fire second contract player the Jets have added through the draft since 2015 has been safety Jamal Adams. I can’t include the 2018 class in the discussion because its obviously still early, but there’s a strong feeling at least Darnold will be another one. The other significant contributors that are at least average starters are OLB Jordan Jenkins, RT Brandon Shell, S Marcus Maye, DE Leonard Williams and ILB Darron Lee. Of this group, Maye, Lee, and Williams can be considered above average starters but they each have flaws that give you pause about a second contract. For Lee, its his first two really shaky season. Maye has had trouble staying healthy. For Williams, it’s his production.

Band-aid Blindfold

One of the areas many consider a strength of Mike Maccagnan are his deals in the trade market and free agency. The deals he made leading up to the trade up to draft Sam Darnold were nice and worthy of admiration. Acquiring a 2nd round pick for Sheldon Richardson was incredible. However, these trade/free agent acquisitions have only been a distraction from the failures in the draft and have contributed directly to the lack of depth on this roster.

In 2015, Maccagnan came in and wanted to win immediately. Now its kinda confusing as to why, but it did buy him credit with the fans which is now very apparent. He tried to buy a somewhat competitive roster and he succeeded. Signing Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine, Antonio Cromartie, Marcus Gilchrist, James Carpenter and Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also traded for a 31-year-old Brandon Marshall. The Jets went 10-6 and just narrowly missed the playoffs.

The overachieving only lasted one season, as players declined and the lack of depth was exposed. Instead of breaking things down, Maccagnan doubled down. The following year he signed 30-year-old Matt Forte and spent almost the entire summer in a contract dispute with Ryan Fitzpatrick just to sign him again to a far overpriced deal. In the midst of that, he drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second round to give the mirage of a team looking towards the future. But it was much harder to sell that terrible decision to the fanbase. The Jets, of course, were terrible in 2016 and had to restart with an actual rebuild in 2017, which saw the roster gutted and the Jets drafting at 6th overall in the following draft.

This past offseason the Jets made a few important signings with CB Trumaine Johnson and ILB Avery Williamson. Johnson was always going to probably last about two seasons as a 28 year old corner signing, however. But so far he has barely played in year one because of injuries. What we have seen when Johnson is healthy so far has been up and down. Williamson has played fairly well. But he hasn’t been much better than Demario Davis was last season (and this season for that matter). They also signed Spencer Long, who was not the top center on the market. He already had injury concerns before signing with the Jets. Like clockwork, this season, his injuries/play have been a big part of the egregious offensive slog the Jets have been in the past few weeks.

Buster Skrine and James Carpenter are the only acquisitions that have been with the Jets for more than 2 seasons. But that’s to be expected. Free agency is not where you build for the long term. NFL teams find more and more creative ways to keep good talent on the roster. Quality talent rarely hits the free agent market. But also, the majority of free agent signings last around 2 years and then part ways. So the Jets being “very active” in free agency isn’t much help unless the Jets are hitting with complementary draft picks in parallel.

Draft comparison

Rebuilding is about building your team through the draft. Maccagnan himself has said as much. But the execution of that has not been great. Many fans say that criticizing Maccagnan’s draft history isn’t fair because other team miss on draft picks, too. It’s true, many other general managers miss. But not all GM’s are being tasked to completely rebuild a team. Some have the luxury to miss. Maccagnan does not. Particularly as someone who was brought in because of his scouting background. The goal is not to have a GM like everyone else. The goal is to have one you trust to build around a franchise quarterback. Let’s take a look at his rate of success from 2015-2017 compared to Jaguars GM David Caldwell, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, Chargers GM Tom Telesco, and Bears GM Ryan Pace.

I know y’all are tired of draft charts but…

(Click above to view full size)

You can see that these three other GM’s have had more success with either the same amount, or fewer picks than Mike Maccagnan had from 2015-2017

Jaguars

David Caldwell and the Jaguars hit on two elite players at premium positions with CB Jalen Ramsey and DE Yannick Ngakoue. Despite having their fair share of first round misses, they’ve still been able to add a balanced amount of positive contributors on both sides of the ball. They got younger and better on the offensive line and added Myles Jack, a steal in the 2nd round. On top of that, Caldwell has standout acquisitions such as CB A.J Bouye and DE Calais Campbell. Those additions were perfect compliments to the draft picks the Jaguars has made. As a result, they end up in the AFC Championship game despite having Blake Bortles at quarterback. Sound familiar?

Falcons

The Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff hit on two elite players with S Keanu Neal and ILB Deion Jones. They also made valuable additions at RB with Tevin Coleman, DT with Grady Jarrett, and another big hit at ILB with De’Vondre Campbell.  For Dimitroff, however, he was already building on top of a pretty good roster. But that’s what sustained success looks like. He has the most hits in this group despite being tied for the fewest total picks with 19.

Bears

Ryan Pace and the Bears are a good comparison for the Jets. Pace was also hired in 2015 and the Bears were also in a pretty sorry state. Ironically, in the course of the Bears rebuild, Ryan Pace offloaded Brandon Marshall to the Jets. But he’s also hit on more draft picks than Maccagnan from 2015-2017 with 3 fewer attempts. S Eddie Jackson looks like he’s on a similar upward trend as Jamal Adams. He’s soon to be on that elite level.

We’ve also seen the success of two late round draft picks with RB Tarik Cohen and RB Jordan Howard. They both have helped support 2nd year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, particularly now under Matt Nagy. On top of that, the Bears signed WR Allen Robinson, WR Taylor Gabriel and TE Trey Burton in the same vein on offense. As a result of those draft picks and acquisitions, and the massive Khalil Mack trade Pace hit on during this season, the Bears roster is closer to contending.

So, not only did Maccagnan not draft as well as those other general managers, he missed on more premium positions. Before the 2018 Darnold draft, he was 0/2 at QB, 0/3 at WR, 1/3 at OLB/edge rusher, and 0/3 at cornerback (I’m not including Charone Peake for or against Maccagnan at WR because he’s been mainly a special teams contributor). That’s 1/12 drafting premium positions. I debated whether to include late round picks in those numbers. But I decided I would because the fact is that Maccagnan has often passed up on drafting premium position players in earlier rounds, in favor of safe picks at non-premium positions. I’m also very tired of the narrative that anything later than a 4th round pick is a throw away . Here’s 19 players from 2015-2017 that are currently starters/significant contributors to their respective teams.

Keep That Same Energy

We’re now in the second half of the 4th year and the Jets feel like they’re are stuck in second gear. Jets fans and writers constantly complain about game management, press conference energy, and coaching style when it comes to head coach Todd Bowles. And I’m certainly not saying the Jets should keep Bowles. He hasn’t fulfilled his objective of moving the team forward. But why does it seem like the main driver of the personnel decisions, Mike Maccagnan, is getting a pass at every turn?

I would argue drafting Christian Hackenberg in the second round is worse than 56 timeouts not called while on defense before a third and long with under 2 minutes left in the second quarter. I would argue throwing Lorenzo Mauldin (cut), Jordan Jenkins, and Dylan Donahue (cut) at a forever need at OLB for the Jets over the last three years, is far worse than all the times Bowles kicked a field goal in a blow out. Before this started in 2015, the consensus was that the Jets can only have a successful rebuild if they sculpt the roster correctly. Ignoring those deficiencies now is convenient and inconsistent.